Hong Kong’s sole delegate to China’s legislative body has said it would be “awkward” for incumbent lawmakers who had been barred from standing in the now-deferred 2020 Legislative Council election to continue their roles until next year. It comes as the government awaits a decision from China’s legislative body to resolve a lacuna in the local legislature ahead of the rescheduled polls next September.

On Friday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam invoked emergency powers to postpone September’s legislative race for a year, citing coronavirus fears. The delay would result in a “vacuum period” in the Legislative Council (LegCo), as each term should only last for four years, according to Article 69 of the Basic Law.

Tam Yiu-chung. File Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

Lam said she could not use emergency powers to extend the operation of the sixth LegCo term, and had thus decided to seek a decision from the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC) to handle the gap.

Speaking on TVB’s On the Record on Sunday, Tam Yiu-chung – the city’s only representative on the NPCSC – said he believed the Chinese legislative body may discuss the arrangement for LegCo in the upcoming meeting between August 8 and 11.

He said the NPCSC should strive to make as few changes as possible to the existing LegCo system: “When the NPCSC makes a decision, it should be as simple as possible, don’t be too complicated.”

Tam said the NPCSC would also review the status of current lawmakers banned from the 2020 legislative race. He was referring to pro-democracy legislators Alvin Yeung, Dennis Kwok, Kwok Ka-ki of the Civic Party and Kenneth Leung, who were among eight other democratic election hopefuls whose nominations were invalidated in an unprecedented mass disqualification.

Kenneth Leung, Alvin Yeung, Dennis Kwok, Kwok Ka-ki. Photos: Legislative Council, via Flickr.

“It would be an awkward position. The returning officers saw them as not qualified for running in the election, but later they could continue to keep [their seats],” Tam said.

When asked why the authorities did not refer to local laws to handle the gap, Tam said there may be legal challenges that would further complicate the situation. Instead, a resolution from the NPCSC would provide “solid legal basis,” he said.

According to an exclusive report from Sing Tao on Monday, Zhang Xiaoming – deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) – has arrived in the city to gather opinions on how to resolve the matter.

The Great Hall. Photo: Lukas Messmer/HKFP.

Pro-establishment legislator Michael Tien told local media on Sunday that all incumbent lawmakers should remain in office for another year in order to keep LegCo running.

Tien – a Hong Kong deputy to the National People’s Congress – said that excluding the four disqualified lawmakers may lead to “unnecessary” speculation or even “conspiracy theories” that the disqualifications were made to allow some government motions and bills to be passed: “If you have to handle something controversial, say some infrastructure projects, without four lawmakers, it would reduce the legitimacy,” he said.

Photo: Legislative Council, via Flickr.

The Hong Kong Bar Association, on the other hand, criticised Lam’s move to seek a decision from Beijing as “effectively inviting” the central government to “override” relevant provisions in the Basic Law and local legislation.

“This is contrary to the principles of legality and legal certainty and degrades the rule of law in Hong Kong,” the association wrote in a statement on Sunday.

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.